American roads are designed to be deadly

Pedestrian deaths on US roads are on the rise. In 2020, more than 6,500 people were killed and killed while walking on the streets in the US, up from about 6,200 a year earlier, and an increase of more than 2,000 compared to 2010. “Dangerous by Design,” a recent report by the advocacy group Smart Growth America, lays major blame on the way those roads are designed.

In 2020, 60% of all pedestrian deaths are in what are officially known as “non-interstate arterial highways” (the four- to six-lane roads that make up the major gridlines of US cities). From micro-environmental cues that encourage unsafe driving, to infrastructure that make roads treacherous, roads in America are full of inherent danger, according to Beth Osborne, vice president of transportation at Smart Growth America.

[Photo: courtesy Smart Growth America]

“Every street is wide, the road is wide, they’re straight, there aren’t many places where you’re supposed to stop or that directly disrupt the racetrack feel,” Osborne says. “Humans, who are incredibly attuned to the design of the world around them, respond to this by driving at high speeds.”

[Photo: courtesy Smart Growth America]

Osborne says that these main roads often have potential conflicts in their design, such as rounded corners that allow drivers to make right turns so fast that they cannot react in time when a pedestrian steps into a crosswalk. keeps.

Yet the design of the road itself is not to blame. The report also highlights the increasing size and weight of vehicles marketed in the US, which have proven to be more lethal to pedestrians than smaller vehicles.

The report also shows where these deaths occurred, ranking metropolitan areas across the country. Daytona Beach, Florida; Albuquerque; And Memphis had the highest average death rate for pedestrians between 2016 and 2020. Each of the 20 metro areas with the highest death rates are located in the south, southeast or southwest. Seven are in Florida. Osborne states that this is directly related to the time in which these areas grew and developed.

“The areas that are most dangerous are the ones that made up most of their buildings in the highway era,” she says. This caused large roads to be related to vehicles moving more efficiently than to the safety of people outside those cars.

[Photo: courtesy Smart Growth America]

Countering these design issues is challenging but not impossible, Osborne says. A major six-lane road with a racetrack feel can be softened by adding trees along its sides, requiring new development to sit closer to the road, reducing lane widths, and connecting medians.

“All those things make the roadway feel a little more constrained and make the driver more comfortable driving slowly,” Osborne says. “You don’t have to tell them, they naturally do.”

[Photo: courtesy Smart Growth America]

The onus to make these changes falls to state transportation departments, which set design guidelines and determine how federal funds are to be used for transportation projects. But when state officials have the final say, many tout a set of guidelines approved by the federal government, known as the Green Book. Osborne says guidelines may suggest lanes be up to 12 feet wide on main roads, but many states consider the upper limit to be the norm.

“People are using these guidebooks as instruction manuals rather than guides,” she says. Converting those 12-foot lanes to 9 1/2-foot lanes, she says, is within the states’ powers, and could have a huge impact on speed and safety issues.

The massive redesign of American roads probably isn’t happening anytime soon, but Osborne argues it doesn’t need to. Most Dangerous Road Types Represent About 15% of Arteries in the US

“We can make such a big impact by touching such a small number of roadways,” she says. “Nothing lasts forever. The question is, in what timeline will this change?”

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